SpaceX has been reusing rockets for years, but they’ve been off-limits for some crucial launches. They’ll get more use soon, however. The private spaceflight company has signed a contract with the US Space Force to reuse a Falcon 9 booster rocket for the first time on a National Security Space Launch mission. The previously-launched vehicle will carry the fifth GPS III satellite to orbit in 2021.
The firm had been allowed to recover boosters for GPS III missions, but had to use fresh examples for new launches.
There’s clearly a pragmatic incentive to allow reused rockets. The Space Force expects to save $52.7 million for the GPS III missions alone. It might also be difficult to insist on brand new rockets. SpaceX is shifting its focus to Starship, and might not be eager to make more Falcon 9 rockets than necessary.
This also reflects added trust in SpaceX. Although the company has clearly played a crucial role in US government launches through projects like Crew Dragon, the contract represents another level of confidence.